ROLAND DAHINDEN – Mr Minimalism – String Quartets Nos. 2 – 5

Roland Dahinden [born 1962] is a Swiss trombonist and composer. He appears to have written five string quartets, four of which make up the CD Flying White.  I am also going to briefly examine another CD, Silberen.

I believe Dahinden has been listening to a lot of Morton Feldman. It took me a little while to get over that, but after a few listens I have found these quartets to be strikingly peaceful. I thought long and hard about reviewing this work, given that it may be too esoteric, but it is fine music. By the way, this will be a very short review! The four quartets on Flying White are all named, one-movement works. You can hear a slight development of style as you progress through the pieces.

SQ No. 2 – Mind Rock. This work is made up mostly of strange chords, usually lasting 2-3 seconds. When a chord is played, there is either little or no melodic movement within that chord. I wouldn’t call them melodies but some consecutive chords contain notes that might be construed as melodic development. This piece runs to 14:10.

SQ No. 3 – Mond See. Very similar to Mind Rock but slightly more melodic, runs for 14:23. This movement has more entropy as there are varying lengths of gaps between the chords. It is a lot more spacious than No. 2 (as if it needed to be).

SQ No. 4 – Flying White. Basically, more of the same. However, there is a lot more obvious melodic development in the chords. There are also a few string quartet sound effects thrown in. It runs for 12:03.

SQ No. 5 – Poids de’Lombre’ (Shadow Weight). Similar again, but definite melodies appear here. This one clocks in at 24:58 (and it really rocks!)

Now onto Silberen. This CD contains a 45 minute piece entitled Piano and String Quartet. The pianist is Hildegard Kleeb, Dahinden’s wife. It also features the Arditti Quartet, who I normally tend to avoid. They play beautifully here, very measured and sparse. The work is reminiscent of Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet. But then again, it isn’t. It just uses the same instrumentation, and, possibly form. This piece, which runs for 45 minutes, is very sparse.  The quartet and piano enter at varying times, sometimes alone, sometimes together. There is no tempo, no harmony and no melodic development. It’s just a piece of pure abstraction. I couldn’t begin to analyse it. It is what it is; whatever that is! You have to hear it for yourself. I’d venture an opinion that some people would not like it. However, I’m pretty comfortable with the Morton Feldman approach and I could definitely listen to it again. This style of music is great to have on while you are doing something, it gives you space to think!

There is a total absence of forward movement in these works. I remember enjoying SQ Nos. 2 & 3 when I first heard them, but I now find Nos. 4 and 5 to be similarly appealing. Not much more I can say. I believe I could read while listening to these. Normally I can’t read with music on; I have to be doing something! The Piano and String Quartet is just very different music. I like it, just as I enjoy Feldman’s soundscapes.

It reminds me of a (slightly pompous) Schoenberg quote – ‘If it’s art, it’s not for the people. If it’s for the people, it’s not art!’ Make of that what you will.

The Flying White CD is on Mode Records, performed by Klangforum Wien String Quartet. It is freely available on Amazon US and UK, as is the Silberen CD, also on Mode.

Both CDs are on Spotify and most of Dahinden’s quartets are available on YouTube with Nos. 2-5 on earsense.

Listenability:  Extreme but beguiling Minimalism.


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